On Friday, hockey took a step towards returning, albeit a small one.
The NHLPA released a statement on Friday night saying the executive board "has authorized further negotiations with the NHL on a 24-team return to play format to determine the winner of the 2020 Stanley Cup. Several details remain to be negotiated and an agreement on the format would still be subject to the parties reaching agreement on all issues relevant to resuming play."
You may be confused by this statement and that is certainly understandable. Here's a breakdown of what this statement actually means.
What the NHLPA agreed to
- 24 teams
- Top four teams per conference get a bye with seeding determined by round-robin games
- The remaining teams all play a play-in series to advance to the next round
Essentially, the NHLPA agreed to the basics of a 24-team format, but that's it.
What the NHLPA did not agree to
- To restart the season
- Any timeline or specific date to restart the season
- Health and safety protocols
Don't take Friday's announcement to mean that the league is back and that it's time to bust out your jerseys and gear up for the playoffs. We are still a long way off from that. All the major questions about safety protocols, testing and how isolated the teams will be throughout the postseason are just some of the myriad of issues yet to be decided on. Plus, there are also still a number of issues with the playoff format that will still need to be determined as well such as whether teams will advance as a bracket or if they will be reseeded each round.
Also, the format itself is still subject to change. The NHLPA couched their approval by saying it still could be tweaked once all those other issues are discussed.
So what does this all really mean?
The NHLPA's very carefully worded statement makes it clear that essentially nothing is set in stone just yet, but there are a few things we can take away from this as fairly reasonable conclusions. First, the season for the bottom seven teams in the NHL -- the Detroit Red Wings, Ottawa Senators, San Jose Sharks, Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks, New Jersey Devils and Buffalo Sabres -- is over and so then is the regular season. There is also a chance that this could reignite the league's desire for an early draft.
One of the main obstacles to a June draft was the fact that the season had not yet concluded and it was unknown how many teams would be in the playoffs. That made it difficult to determine how to conduct a draft lottery. The 24-team plan will now go to the NHL Board of Governors for approval and, assuming they sign off on this format as agreed to by the NHLPA, we will know the seven teams who will definitely not be in the playoffs which would eliminate any possibility of the lottery winner also being the eventual Stanley Cup champion.
In terms of bringing us closer to the return of hockey, this is a step in the right direction, but just a small one. The other issues such as safety protocols and players' access to their families during the postseason are the much more difficult issues to figure out and still need to be determined before the league can resume play.
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